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I was sitting with my mom a couple of hours ago. She was reading aloud birthday wishes she had received to me. Some of the wishes were in FusHa (Modern Standard Arabic), and some were in Egyptian Arabic. What I found interesting was that my mom, a lover of FusHa, said that she liked the ones written in EA a lot more because they sounded, according to her, more genuine.
I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that, for example, in English, both what I read and what I hear are one and the same language. Of course, in written English, you often see a wider variety of vocabulary and styles. But the language itself–the pronouns, sentence structure, pronunciation, etc., are the same!
The Barriers of Diglossia in the Arabic-Speaking World
I’ve always wondered why this is not the case in Arabic. Why do I have to translate my thoughts before writing them out for some reader who, chances are, speaks the same language I speak (Egyptian Arabic), or at least understands it? Doesn’t this put barriers between the message and receiver? I think it does, especially for those who happen not to have learned FusHa well enough. The problem is that these people make up the majority.
Classical Arabic Literature vs. the Average Arab Today
You would certainly enjoy reading Classical Arabic literature, such as poetry written 1,500 years ago, but only if you had at least a decent command of Classical Arabic. If you understand basic FusHa, like most educated people, you will understand books written in simple FusHa. But if you only know Modern Standard Arabic, the level of literature you can enjoy (or that a contemporary author can write) won’t be great. The greatest works of literature aren’t written in simple language, after all.
All of this tells us that we are facing a serious problem. The majority of native speakers of Arabic cannot enjoy or appreciate Classical Arabic literature.
There are two solutions to our problem. One, educate the masses better so that the average person has true proficiency in FusHa and can understand and enjoy high-level literature. Or two, get rid of the belief that literature cannot be written in a “colloquial dialect” such as Masri (Egyptian Arabic).
I wish we could apply the first solution, but I just don’t think it is realistic. Investing time, effort, and money into learning FusHa is not really something that will help you get a better-paying job. Learning English, on the other hand, will. So yes, ideally, we (Arabs) should all invest in learning FusHa. Perhaps in a perfect world, we would just speak FusHa. But it doesn’t seem like this will happen anytime soon.
The second solution, however, is much more attainable. All it takes is a change of mindset–to accept Egyptian Arabic as a valid written language for literature, books, and media. And I’m happy to say that this has already begun to happen.
The Advent of Publications in Egyptian Arabic
I also read a couple of books on psychology and sociology in Egyptian Arabic this year. It’s an interesting development that experts on such serious, academic matters would choose to write in Egyptian Arabic, no doubt to reach the masses. One of these books is even a national best-seller, by the way, which shows us that people’s mindsets are, in fact, starting to change.
The News in Egyptian Arabic
Earlier this year, I co-authored the Lingualism publication “The News in Egyptian Arabic,” which consists of news articles written in Egyptian Arabic. My co-author of the book, Matthew Aldrich, thought the book would help learners of Egyptian Arabic learn the language that we, Egyptians, use when discussing the news and serious topics–even though news articles are normally written in FusHa. And although I’ve long believed that Egyptian Arabic and FusHa (MSA) are not actually a single language and that Egyptian Arabic is not just colloquial “slang” suited only for speaking, I was hesitant to pursue the book project at first because news articles in Egyptian Arabic are something I’ve never seen before. But now, after reading more books this year in Egyptian Arabic, I feel increasingly confident that presenting news articles in Egyptian Arabic is valid and acceptable, and if someone criticizes this, I can point to this trend and confirm its legitimacy.